NHS workforce shortage has "serious and detrimental" impact on services

29 March 2022

Staff shortages across the NHS are having a "serious and detrimental impact" on services and will hinder efforts to tackle major care backlogs and improve access to services, according to a new survey of health leaders who say the government must accept a proposed amendment to the health and care bill to strengthen workforce planning.

An overwhelming majority of trust leaders (89%) do not think the NHS has robust plans in place to tackle workforce shortages. This underlines in stark detail health leaders’ fears that ministers do not have a clear strategy to tackle either the estimated 110,000 vacancies across the NHS or the long-term needs of the NHS workforce.

The survey of trust leaders by NHS Providers, the body representing every NHS hospital, mental health, community, and ambulance trust in England, found:

There are also worries that the lack of certainty over workforce supply over the next five to ten years will significantly increase 'burnout' and affect staff morale as well as having a negative impact on patients.

This uncertainty means that it will take longer to meet stretching backlog recovery targets and reduce patient waiting times, and there will be a negative impact on the quality of care, according to a significant majority of those who responded.

Trust leaders overwhelmingly (88%) want the government to be required by law to publish regular, independent assessments of how many health and social care staff are needed to keep pace with projected demand over the next five, ten and 20 years.

The House of Lords passed an amendment to the health and care bill last month, supported by NHS Providers, parliamentarians from all major parties and over 100 other health and care representative organisations, which would enable this to take place.

The deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, said:

"NHS trusts and their overstretched staff are working incredibly hard to cut waiting times against a backdrop of worryingly high numbers of COVID-19 cases in hospitals, but they’re doing this with one hand tied behind their backs.

"Our survey makes clear the grave consequences of staffing gaps for quality of care, patient safety and staff morale.

"The message from trust leaders to the government is loud and clear.

"Take this once in a decade opportunity to tackle long-standing failures in workforce planning and accept the solution offered by the workforce amendment when the health and care bill returns to the House of Commons.

"We need the government to commit to publishing regular assessments of how many health and social care staff are needed to keep pace with projected demand over the next five, ten and 20 years.

"This action would give NHS staff immediate hope that the government is taking this problem seriously, helping to retain those in the workforce today.

"A failure to do so would almost inevitably compound staff shortages and workforce 'burnout', just as the NHS strives to reduce backlogs in care.

"The government must set out how it plans to tackle 110,000 NHS staff vacancies and make workloads sustainable. A long-term plan for a resilient workforce is vital."